Nimrod and Niobe


Nimrod as shown on a stained glass window of Église Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune of Strasbourg, Copyright Ralph Hammann

Nimrod was a renowned hunter in the Bible, one of Noach’s grandsons, and the founder of Babylon. Modern scholars believe the stories about Nimrod date from the Early Bronze Age. Numerous cultures (e.g., Armenian, Hungarian, Muslim, Finnish, Arabic) have legends and stories about him. Many historians have tried to link him with actual historical figures from Mesopotamia, with no consensus to date.

Nimrod appears in Canto XXXI of Inferno, as a Giant guarding the central pit of the Ninth Circle of Hell. Because he was associated with the building of the Tower of Babel, Dante has him speaking an unintelligible language. Nimrod later appears in Canto XII of Purgatorio, as one of the people on the roadway between the first two terraces of Purgatory.

I saw Nimrod under his mighty tower
As if bewildered and regarding those
Who in Shinar with him bragged of all their power.

Nimrod gets a final mention in Canto XXVI of Paradiso:

Wholly extinguished was the tongue I spoke
Long ere the unachievable monument
Was looked to be achieved by Nimrod’s folks.

Nimrod is a Hebrew name of uncertain etymology, though it may be of Akkadian origin or mean “rebel” in Hebrew.

Niobe was the daughter of King Tantalus and either Dione (the most common mother cited), Eurythemista, or Euryanassa. Her siblings were Pelops and Broteas. Her claim to fame, as it were, comes from the tragic loss of all 14 of her children. Niobe bragged to Leto, mother of twins Apollo and Artemis, about how many more kids she had, and this enraged Leto’s children. Artemis killed Niobe’s seven daughters, and Apollo killed Niobe’s seven sons. According to some sources, at least one Niobid (usually Meliboea) survived.

Amphion, their father, was so grief-stricken and horror-struck at the sight of his murdered children, he killed himself. Other sources depict him as being killed by Apollo on account of having sworn revenge. Niobe was devastated, and escaped back to Mount Sipylus, where she was turned into stone. As she wept without abatement, water began pouring from her petrified face. Mount Sipylus indeed has a rock which resembles a female face, and has been associated with Niobe since antiquity.

Niobe appears in Canto XII of Purgatorio, among those on the roadway between the first two terraces:

O Niobe, into my eyes arose
What grief, to see, carved on that floor, your pain
‘Twixt seven and seven of children in Death’s throes!

The etymology of Niobe is unknown.


6 thoughts on “Nimrod and Niobe

  1. I wonder if Niobe has its origin in Luwian or one of the other languages that would have been spoken in Anatolia during the Late Bronze Age. It might have gone through a lot of changes in being Hellenized, like Priam and some of the other names suspected of having an Anatolian origin.

  2. There’s also a Niobe in the HBO series Rome, who commits suicide when her husband discovers her inadvertent past infidelity (she’d thought her husband dead).

    I love the name, but I feel it may be too tragic for general use. Along those lines, not sure if I could use Antigone either.

    What are the sources for Meliboea’s survival?

    • The cited versions depicting Meliboea as surviving (with her name changed to Chloris afterwards) are the Bibliotheca of Pseudo-Apollodorus, the Fabulae of Gaius Julius Hyginus, and the writings of Ioannis Tzetzes.

  3. Pingback: A to Z Reflections 2016 | Onomastics Outside the Box

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